Paul goes on to contrast the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ with that which comes through the law (v. 9). He’s already told us that he was “faultless” or “blameless” in regard to possessing a righteousness from the law (v. 6). He’s certainly not saying he was perfect (as an understanding of the law requiring perfection would demand). In the context, I think it’s clear he was blameless by the standard of the Judaizers—he was connected to Abraham through the flesh, to Moses through the law, and to their ancestors through their traditions. Contrast this with the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ. We’re made right on the basis of trusting in the work God did for us through Christ. Nothing to boast about there—nothing at all.
In v. 10, he ratchets things up a notch. There’s an even greater intensity in what he says as he speaks of his passion “to know the power of His resurrection and participate in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death.” In some sense, it’s like we’ve entered into the holy of holies and only such a perspective will help us to understand his words. Paul hasn’t put together a three-point message because it’s Sunday morning and he has to say something—he has something to say for those who are willing to hear it.
You’ll notice the peculiar order—he speaks of knowing the power of the resurrection and only then of participating in His sufferings and becoming like Him in His death. “To know the power of His resurrection” (see Ephesians 1:18ff), is more than knowing that the body of Christ was raised from the dead—it’s understanding the significance of it—especially as it relates to Christ’s body on earth today, the church. For it’s in the church that “God continues the purpose He pursued in raising Jesus from the dead” (McGuiggan). Knowing the power of resurrection then is understanding that the God who raised up Christ in accordance with His purpose is continuing to work out that purpose by the same power in the body of Christ today.
Do we believe that?
Knowing this causes Paul to have the desire to “participate in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death.” There’s a temptation to pass off this part of the verse as being uniquely about Paul and no one else, but remember, Paul is talking about what it means to know Christ, so that won’t work. The truth is, Paul is speaking not just as an apostle, but as part of the body of Christ. And it is the mission of the body of Christ to proclaim, rehearse, and display the redemptive suffering of Christ to each generation. That is an important part of what it means to know Jesus.